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'If this hunger strike succeeds, it could mean revolution'

He entered prison for the first time at the age of 10, was one of the founders of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, and became one of the representatives of Fatah’s security prisoners in Israeli jails. For the last decade, Ramzi Fayyad, who has been working to promote dialogue between representatives of released prisoners, views the the current hunger strikes as an opportunity. Orly Noy spoke to him about prison conditions, the failure to learn from past mistakes, and why the strike could help Palestinians on a global level.

The hunger strike organized by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails has been going on for four weeks, and as anticipated, after the initial uproar in the media, has fallen out of the public eye in Israel. This itself is an expression of the occupier’s authoritarian arrogance: the deep indifference to the political and social drama unfolding on the streets of Palestine, which we are only interested in, if at all, when it has to do with “terrorists” who dare to demand satellite channels in their cells.

From the first day, the strike reminded me of one name: Ramzi Fayyad, a former security prisoner who I used to interview 12-13 years ago, on a radio show I hosted at the time. Ramzi would speak to us from time to time from from Ktziot Prison, talking about the conditions of the prisoners, and Palestinian politics more generally. I owe some of my deepest insights to these conversations. Over the years, we developed a real friendship, and through friends from the outside we exchanged photos of family, letters, and children’s gifts. We haven’t spoken for a long time, Ramzi and I. The hunger strike brought me right back to our discussions, and after a short conversation we agree it is time to meet up again after all these years. He cannot enter Israeli territory, so I drove to visit him and his family in Jenin.

Ramzi waits for me at Huwarra. Even though the years in jail have left a clear mark on him, I immediately recognize him from the photographs, and the meeting is incredibly moving. He pulls out a thermos and two glasses out of his car, pouring us coffee, “welcome coffee” and we set off. Ramzi is married and has two sons – Osama, the eldest at 16, who was a baby in the photos Ramzi had once sent, and Alaa, his nine year-old son who was born after...

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Israelis simply don't want to know about Palestinian prisoners

The Israeli public doesn’t care about Palestinians on hunger strike, about conditions in prison, or what happens to a body after it is deprived of food for so long.

Sometime in the ’90s, “Popolitica,” a popular political talk show in Israel, brought on a woman from Israel’s geographical periphery who could not send her child to school because she could not afford it. “There is a law in this country that mandates all parents send their children to school!” she said angrily. Tommy Lapid, the late father of Yair Lapid, who sat on the panel, cut her off: “My dear, the money you spent on your haircut could have been used to educate your child for a year.”

I recalled this story after watching Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and his doppelgängers celebrate the release of the video showing Palestinian prisoner Marwan Barghouti eating a chocolate-coated waffle while on hunger strike. How low does one need to go to bait a hunger-striking prisoner and then celebrate it as a victory? But this is the way of the villains: to scorn a woman who cannot send her son to school over her hair color, in order to avoid a serious discussion about a system that leaves out her son, or to celebrate images of a prisoner eating during a hunger strike, instead of talking about the demands and conditions in which thousands of Palestinian prisoners find themselves.

In fact, until this moment I didn’t see a single media outlet, aside from Local Call, publish the hunger strikers’ full list of demands. Why have 1,600 prisoners refused to eat for 3 weeks? What do they want? Who are these people? The Israeli public doesn’t know. It doesn’t know what their conditions are in prison, or how much harsher conditions have become for them since they started their strike. Prisoners are prevented from meeting with their lawyers and are subject to solitary confinement, raids on their cells at all hours of the day, invasive body searches, confiscating salt, which forms the core basis of hunger strikers’ diet during their strike. The Israeli public neither knows nor has any desire to know.

After three weeks of hunger strike, the Israeli public neither knows nor wants to know what happens to a body after it is deprived of food for so long. How the hunger striker struggles to stand on his feet, suffers...

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WATCH: Masked settlers attack left-wing activists in Jordan Valley

Five of the activists, who were there to protect Palestinian shepherds from settler attacks, were themselves wounded by Israeli settlers.

A group of masked Israeli settlers attacked over a dozen activists with Jewish-Arab solidarity group Ta’ayush in the Jordan Valley on Friday morning. The activists were accompanying Palestinian shepherds working near al-Auja, which is near Habaladim, an Israeli outpost.

Last year, in addition to their regular activities in the South Hebron hills, Ta’ayush activists also started going to the Jordan Valley to work with Palestinian communities threatened by Israeli settlers. Until recently, they focused their work in the northern part of the valley, but for the last two weeks they have also accompanied Palestinians in the al-Auja area due to violence settlers have been inflicting on local shepherding communities.

“The settlers showed up with clubs last week also,” said one of the Ta’ayush activists who witnessed the violence. “But last week they didn’t go any further than the adjacent hilltop — maybe they didn’t understand who we were. This week they didn’t stop there.”

The Baladim outpost is one of the more hard-core settlements in the area. “The most radical and marginalized hilltop youth are there, the type even the rabbis can’t control and don’t even want them there,” the activist continued. “The police also keep an eye on them and show up from time to time, but they basically hide in caves. They’ve become a nightmare for the shepherds in this area.”

On Friday, the settlers advanced toward the activists armed with clubs and stones, and violently attacked them, as the video shows. Five of the activists were wounded, one in the head. The activists reported the attack to the police, whom they had informed in advance they would be accompanying the shepherds.

“When we saw them approaching us we stood in a line with the shepherds behind us,” the activist recalled. “We yelled at them to get away but they kept coming and attacked.”

“Because the attack took place in a location without any access roads, we were forced to walk down a steep path for around 40 minutes until we reached asphalt, where an ambulance was waiting,” he continued.

“The police who showed up told us to go to the Binyamin police station in order to file a complaint, but when we got there the station was empty — not a single soul was there...

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Conscientious objector jailed by Israeli army for third time

Atalya Ben-Abba, 19, has already spent 50 days in prison for refusing to serve in the IDF, and has now been sentenced to a further 30 days.

Conscientious objector Atalya Ben-Abba, 19, was on Tuesday sentenced to a third stint in prison after reporting to the Tel Hashomer military induction base and refusing to enlist in the IDF. Ben-Abba will spend 30 days in jail, on top of the 50 days she has already served following her previous two refusals.

On the previous two occasions, Ben-Abba was sentenced along with fellow draft refusers Tamar Ze’evi and Tamar Alon, both of whom were recently released from the military after each serving more than 100 days in jail.

Once she has finished her current jail term, Ben-Abba is expected to be again summoned to the military induction base, where she will continue to refuse to serve in the army and will state her willingness to carry out civilian national service instead.

In March, the army recognized refusal to serve in the occupation as conscientious objection for the first time in 13 years, as it decided to release Tamar Ze’evi after she had spent a total of 118 days in prison.

Several other conscientious objectors refused to enlist in the army last year, including Tair Kaminer and Aidan Katri.

Last fall, hundreds of Ethiopian Israelis announced they would refuse army reserve duty, in protest at police violence and institutional discrimination toward them.

This post was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Israelis must speak up about the injustices here, and the world must listen

The world is not against us — rather, it is at best indifferent to the oppression of Palestinians, and at worst colludes in it, which is why Israelis must inform decent people about what is happening here.

I was invited to attend a series of meetings organized by French activists that were held this week. The participants were involved in Palestine solidarity work, some of them with longstanding ties to Palestinian communities. Several visit Israel-Palestine on occasion, and assist however they can from afar.

And yes, they are ardent supporters of all forms of non-violent struggle, particularly boycott. Every year, at the general meeting of local councils, they invite speakers from Israel-Palestine in order to broaden their perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I generally think that these kinds of meetings are very important. The occupation is not an internal Israeli matter, and the international community is not merely entitled to know what is happening and to intervene — it has to.

But here in France, amid the endless greenery and against your will, Zionist indoctrination drifts in and quietly pecks away at your thoughts: what makes these people, who live in one of the most peaceful and beautiful places you’ve seen, decide to get involved in the Palestinian struggle? Why this cause specifically? And that damned suspicion that has worked its way into our veins — perhaps they are acting not out of concern for Palestinians, but out of hatred for Israel (or rather for Jews, of the kind it is no longer polite to admit to these days).

During long conversations with the hosts — most of them elderly, and warm, welcoming and exceptionally generous — I set aside these suspicions and listen intently. No, they are not anti-Semites. No, they don’t hate Israel. They are veteran activists who come from a long and steadfast tradition of anti-fascism, and who are appalled at what is happening around them, both in France (especially now, ahead of the elections), and in Palestine, which is currently a hot topic on the French Left.

The couple in whose home I was staying, both retired teachers, are activists in the Palestine solidarity movement. The man has traveled to Israel-Palestine several times, and follows after the situation here with great concern. His grandmother on his mother’s side was Jewish, and his mother was an atheist who fought with the partisans. He, too, is an atheist, and was...

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Israeli police are a danger to Palestinian public safety

A video of an Israeli police officer assaulting a Palestinian man may have gone viral this week, leading senior officials to condemn it. It also served as a reminder that police violence is a part of everyday life for Palestinians in Israel.

The now-infamous video of an Israeli police officer beating a Palestinian man in East Jerusalem, which began circulating on social media on Thursday media, won’t leave me. I am trying to figure out precisely why these images are so disturbing and stomach-churning. After all, anyone who knows even bit about the reality in the eastern part of the city knows there is nothing new here. After all, the police’s violent, frightening presence in Palestinian areas is part of everyday life here.

I know this reality well. I know it from the rows of detained Palestinians who are made to stand against a wall, which I see at least twice a day in this city. I know it from the beatings during protests, from the Border Police jeeps that drive wildly in the Palestinian neighborhoods. Too many times have I almost been run over by one while crossing the street. I am guessing they must have thought I was Palestinian, and no police jeep will slow down to allow a Palestinian the right to cross in these areas.

Perhaps it is the fact that none of the Palestinian men present try to intervene or strike back as they watch the officer’s depraved behavior. They just stand there and take it. But the fact is that the officer could very easily claim that his life was in danger, meaning these men would quickly find themselves in court as the attackers. The statistics show that they are right.

Between 2011-2014, in more than 93 percent of cases in which citizens filed reports against the police, the Police Investigation Unit either refrained from opening an investigation or closed the case without taking action against the offending officers. Among the 11,282 complaints filed between 2011-2013, only 306 cases (2.7 percent) led to criminal trials, while only 374 (3.3 percent) led to disciplinary hearings. In 2014, only 2.5 percent of complaints turned into a trial, while three percent led to a disciplinary hearing. The rest of the cases were either closed due to lack of evidence or public interest — or were never investigated in the first place.

In 2016, 2,945...

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In bid to expel Arab MK, Israel manages to break its own record

MK Basel Ghattas will serve two years for smuggling cellphones to Palestinian security prisoners. That’s a longer sentence than the one handed down to an Elor Azaria, who executed an incapacitated Palestinian. 

Congratulations are in order to the attorney general and the Knesset for the latest Arab they managed be put up on the cross. Palestinian MK Basel Ghattas (Balad), who was accused of smuggling cellphones to Palestinian security prisoners, agreed to sign a plea bargain according to which he will admit to committing an act that could lead either directly or indirectly to acts of terrorism, resign from the Knesset, and serve two years in prison.

This story takes me back to a decade ago, when I hosted a daily radio show on a Palestinian-Israeli radio station. As part of my program, I would often bring on Ramzi, a Palestinian administrative detainee who would speak to us directly from prison. The conversations with him would mostly revolve around the difficult conditions facing Palestinian security prisoners, as well as the abuse they face by prison authorities. Ramzi was released from prison after his administrative detention was extended three times. During the years that we stayed in touch after his release, he was mostly busy rehabilitating his health and family life. He left prison a shadow of his former self, never knowing what he was accused of or why he was arrested.

There are two issues at hand here: first, the inhumane conditions of security prisoners in Israeli prisons, far from the eye of the public’s eye or interest; second, the fact that there is a large number of cellphones circulating in Israel’s “security” prison wings. A human rights activist once told me that at the end of a routine visit to a number of prisons, a top official in the Israel Prison Service (IPS) told him, off the record, that prison officials are not only well aware that security prisoners have cellphones, they believe their presence is a good thing. After all, cellphones function as a pressure valve for prisoners, while providing Israel’s security services with a convenient way of monitoring their connections with the outside world. Anyone who denies the existence of this hush-hush deal is simply lying.

Ghattas never stood a chance

The simple fact is that the Ghattas saga has absolutely nothing to do with state security, but rather with a crusade to delegitimize Balad and paint the party as a security...

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We have a partner for peace, his name is Mahmoud Abbas

Following a meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, Orly Noy is left with just one question: who is the real partner for peace here? 

I was invited to join a delegation of Palestinian citizens of Israel, most of them residents of Jaffa, to Ramallah on Sunday, in order to meet with the Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, headed by Muhammad al-Madani.

I had met al-Madani over year ago, just before Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman prevented him from entering Israeli territory, claiming that he was working to “influence Israeli politics.” Yes, he is certainly trying to influence Israeli politics. He still believes, with all his naiveté, that Palestinians can circumvent Israeli politicians and speak directly to the Israeli public in order to try and convince them that they have a partner for peace.

Let’s take a moment to think about this: the Palestinian Authority includes a special committee whose entire job is to make connections and dialogue with the Israeli public. It has met with the Mizrahi public, with Israelis from the former Soviet Union, religious Jews, ultra-Orthodox Jews, and of course Palestinian citizens of Israel. While Israel does everything it can to prevent meetings between Israelis and Palestinians, Palestinians are doing all they can to actually meet us.

As we arrived in Ramallah, we quickly discovered that our meeting with al-Madani and the members of his office was only the beginning. We later found out that we would be touring the new Palestinian city Rawabi, 12 miles from Ramallah, followed by a meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas.

A new city on a hill

The tour to Rawabi was surreal. Our guide was the project’s head of marketing, a young, well-spoken and excitable man whose pride in this ambitious project was hard to miss. There is no doubt that he can envision how the city — which now seems like a ghost town — will look like in just a few years: bustling, prestigious, environmentally friendly, and planned down to the last meter. Every stone that was used to build Rawabi, he told us, was quarried from the mountain on which the city is being built — including all the water infrastructure, the electricity (and like all electricity in the West Bank, it comes from East Jerusalem; according to the Oslo Accords, Palestinians are not allowed to create electricity in the West Bank), gas, and telephone lines will be...

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One state? Two states? Israeli Jews aren't the ones to decide

Trump’s recent remarks may have sparked a debate on the possibility of the one-state solution, but one thing is for sure: Israeli Jews are not in a position to decide the future of the occupied territories. 

The world works in strange ways sometimes. Who would have believed that just by mere words it would be President Donald Trump, of all people, who would grant legitimacy to the one-state solution during his joint press conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu this past week.

More than any other fictional character, Trump reminds me of Chance the gardener, the simple-minded hero of Jerzy Kosiński’s novel, Being There, whose idiotic comments are, somehow, viewed by the people around him as pearls of wisdom. Or as The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah said: “Trump is either a genius, or he’s the biggest idiot the world has ever seen.”

Quiet Palestinians, Israelis are deciding!

Trump’s mention of one state as an alternative to the two-state paradigm is no revelation — the idea has become a dominant one on the margins of the Israeli Left and the Right alike. Both sides see the territory between the river and the sea as a single geographical unit, with the central question in their eyes being the future of the Palestinian residents of the West Bank. One side believes in annexing the occupied territories without annexing the residents themselves, while the other believes that annexation means granting civil rights to all.

On the eve of the Trump-Netanyahu meeting, the latter found a new supporter: Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who believes that the entire Land of Israel belongs to the Jews, said that “sovereignty over a territory means granting citizenship to all those in that territory. There is no way around it. There is no one deal for Israelis and another deal for non-Israelis.”

Rivlin’s remarks were so touching to Haaretz’s Gideon Levy that the latter crowned the president the “real opposition leader” who has emerged as the “only politician who speaks the truth around here.” What about Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh? Levy has probably never heard of him. Odeh may be opposition enough to be shot by the police while defending homes from demolition in the Negev, but unfortunately he is simply not Jewish enough to play a role in the inter-Jewish public discussion that demarcates the border between the...

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This isn't Israel's first 'land theft law,' it won't be the last

Israel has a long and rich history of using the law to dispossess Palestinians of their land. Anyone willing to see what’s taken place over the past 70 years shouldn’t feign outrage at the latest ‘land theft law.’

Congrats to the Israeli Knesset for passing the settlement “regulation law” (also known as the “normalization law” and the “formalization law”) earlier this week. The law retroactively legalizes the theft by Israeli settlers of land privately owned by Palestinians, largely land on which those settlements Israel calls “illegal outposts” were constructed — because their existence is illegal even under Israeli law.

To be honest, I don’t really understand the outrage of the “Jewish and democratic” crowd at the legislation and its passage into law. The new law stays true to the long-standing Israeli tradition of “formalizing” or “regulating” the theft of Palestinian property by legal means; it doesn’t introduce any tricks we haven’t seen before.

The tradition began in the State of Israel’s earliest years with the Absentee Property Law of 1950, which “regulated” the expropriation of Palestinian property of any Palestinian who fled or was driven from his or her home during the 1948 war and who ended up in one of the surrounding Arab states “or in any part of Palestine outside the area of Israel” between November 29, 1947 and May 19, 1948.

What the Absentee Property Law did was to declare that as far as property and land was concerned, the books were wiped clean in 1948 — for property owned by Palestinians, that is. Palestinians have no legal avenue for reclaiming property left behind in 1948. Jews, on the other hand, are able regain property they owned prior to 1948, in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Shiekh Jarrah for example, and Israeli authorities are more than happy to help them by evicting the current Palestinian residents of those properties.

After 1967 the practice got even more complicated. When Israel annexed East Jerusalem, it also applied its system of laws to the newly occupied neighborhoods and villages, including the Absentee Property Law. That effectively turned all of the property belonging to East Jerusalem residents into absentee property because during the period defined by the law they were residents of an enemy state, Jordan, which controlled East Jerusalem at the time. That legal situation was too absurd even for Israeli authorities, however, and Palestinians living in...

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If Israeli Jews want change, they must refuse to be masters

The fact that the occupier declares his refusal to be ‘the enemy’ of the oppressed is simply not enough. Israelis must go one step further and refuse to lord over Palestinians.

A few hours before Saturday evening’s Arab-Jewish protest in Tel Aviv, the town of Qalansuwa held a conference to mark the international day of solidarity with Palestinians in Israel. Yes, there is such a thing. This is the second year in a row that we mark this day, with events taking place in Gaza, Ramallah, and Beirut.

I had the honor of speaking at the conference on Saturday, and as far as I could tell I was the only Jewish person in the room. The event ended early enough for me to head to the march in Tel Aviv. Yet somehow at the end of the event, the protest seemed less relevant. Qalansuwa is less than an hour from Tel Aviv, yet it exists in what feels like a parallel universe. It seems to me that we needed to invest a bit more energy in learning about this universe before we celebrate on the streets of Tel Aviv.

Don’t get me wrong — these days every act of joint Arab-Jewish resistance is praiseworthy. But one can also wonder how it is that we always play the role of the “host?” Why do these acts of joint protest almost always take place in Tel Aviv, which gets to — once again — show the world how liberal it is, while Palestinians are forced to make yet another pilgrimage to the White City from across the country? One can also wonder about demonstrations where Hebrew is the dominant language, where Jews speak out against racism, home demolitions, police violence. Where they call for equality and refuse to be enemies.

Yet these are the same rallies where Jews refuse to openly say that the reality we see today is the logical conclusion of Zionism itself — not a detour. They cannot say that this is its natural course, and that there is no way to reach “equality” without building an alternative to Zionism. They dare not speak of a state for all its citizens.

A ‘holy symmetry’

I assume that much of this will sound like political purism that subverts honest attempts by well-meaning Jews and Arabs to create spaces for partnership, despite our inciting, dividing leadership, which seeks to set us...

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Amona's evacuation is no victory

After over a decade of legal battles, the state was finally forced to evacuate the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona. But that does not mean we should start celebrating any time soon.

I’ll admit it: I feel a certain sense of satisfaction watching the evacuation of Amona, the illegal West Bank outpost built on what used to be Khalt al-Sultan. The attempt to force ourselves to empathize with the evacuees who lost their homes is both morally delusional and, in a sense, manipulates our collective conscience.

The settlers of Amona did not lose their homes, rather they gave back land that legally belonged to others — the land they stole with the support of the state, which will soon compensate them with land that was stolen elsewhere. And if we do feel sorry to see the children of these families being torn from their homes, we must remember that their parents were the ones who caused the young ones to take their first steps on stolen land, forcibly turning them into accomplices to the crime.

Let us be frank: Palestinians, much like the Israeli Left — especially the radical left — have very few moments of satisfaction in their political lives. I wrote about one of these moments two weeks ago, after the High Court ordered the state to release the body of Yacoub Abu al-Qi’an, who was shot by police during the violent evacuation of Umm el-Hiran, so it could be properly buried. Despite the extremely tense hearing, we breathed a sigh of relief when the court accepted the Abu al-Qi’an family’s petition. The feeling was one of victory.

These small victories are understandable and perhaps even necessary in the long-distance runs of the consistent Israeli Left. Not only because it is always a good thing when justice — even if it is limited, partial, or lacking — is applied, but also because we need them, rationed as they are, to continue. But in order to continue effectively, we must also understand these victories in a wider context. Most of all, we must not allow them to distort our understanding of power relations.

The High Court’s decision, for instance, can be easily understood as a ruling by a neutral body that came to rule in favor of either the police or the family. Just as the photos from Amona’s evacuation could be interpreted as a...

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When the High Court has to intervene so a Palestinian family can mourn

After Israeli police shot and killed Yaqub Musa Abu al-Qi’an before demolishing his home, the state held onto his body for nearly a week. Only an appeal to the High Court allowed his family to bury their loved one.

The only way to describe what took place on Monday in Israel’s High Court, during a hearing on a petition by the Abu al-Qi’an family demanding the police release the body of Yaqub Musa Abu al-Qi’an, is as a nerve-racking drama. For three hours, those present in the courthouse — police officials on one side, and members of the Abu al-Qi’an family and Arab leaders on the other, including half of the Joint List Knesset members — listened to the arguments put forth by both sides and tried to glean which direction the wind was blowing.

Here’s some background before we get to the case: Abu Al-Qi’an was shot and killed by police during home demolitions in the Bedouin village of Umm el-Hiran in the Negev last Wednesday. A close analysis of a video that captured the killing — as well as initial findings from the autopsy that were published by the media — indicate that he lost control of his car after being shot, only then running over and killing a police officer. The autopsy further showed that Abu al-Qi’an bled to death without receiving any medical help, which likely would have saved his life.

Israeli police were quick to disseminate their version of events following his death, according to which Abu al-Qi’an was an ISIS-supporting terrorist who tried to ram his car into security forces (the only evidence of which was that he had several copies of Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom in his home). The large question marks surrounding the incident did not stop Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan from continuing to call Abu al-Qi’an a terrorist, all while the Department of Internal Police Investigations is still investigating the incident.

The police refused to release his body after the killing, holding on to it as a bargaining chip ֿto force the family to accept three conditions for the funeral: it would be held in the Bedouin township of Hura, rather than in Umm el-Hiran; the number of participants would be capped at 50 (Arab politicians and public figures would not be allowed); and it would have to...

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